The 30 Day Productivity Challenge That Works

A month ago, I announced a brief creative challenge called #30march30. The concept was simple: we all have something we always say we want to do — write a novel, make a movie, learn to cook, etc. — but we always say we’ll get to it “someday.” So my challenge was to work on that thing for 30 minutes a day in the month of March [which has 31 days, so hey, you also get a free day off].

My theory was that training yourself to work on that thing for even as little as 30 minutes a day would do three things for you:

  • It would force you to find that time in your schedule
  • It would make you commit to the process
  • It would show you what’s possible with steady incremental progress

Because if you don’t get started on something, you can never finish, right?

When I mentioned the idea on Facebook, several friends said it sounded like something they could use. They were willing to try it.

Leslie Poston set a goal of developing a working knowledge of Spanish.

Dan Greenwald set a goal of working on his comic book for 30 minutes a day.

Nenad Ristic set a goal of coding and designing his video game for 30 minutes a day.

And I set a goal of writing the first draft of a screenplay that I’ve been tinkering with for the past 3 years.

So… did the #30march30 challenge work?

As it turns out, yes it did.

I asked Leslie, Dan, and Nenad for their feedback. Here’s what they had to say about their #30march30 experiences:

Leslie: By practicing every day, I was able to gt back to conversational levels of Spanish, and my written Spanish improved. If I keep at it, I could be fluent in a few months.

Additionally, having THAT goal spurred me to look for more goals, and now I’m enrolled in grad school for fall. This was a case of “that wasn’t as hard as I thought. I can approach this larger goal the same way, by taking few classes at a time and working toward my Master’s in increments, rather than one big push.”

Dan: First, it worked, plain and simple. I’ve always had problems organizing myself when it came to personal projects; so many good intentions, yet so many disappointments. I’d start to feel guilty about not working, so occasionally I’d binge-work and jam in as much as I could in a couple of hours, but that was ultimately self-defeating because it’s not a realistic or consistent work schedule.

The #30march30 challenge forced me to compartmentalize my project — to work smaller, so to speak. I could focus on one thing for 30 minutes, no more, no less. I feel like I did better work in a shorter amount of time and I never felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting enough done because I knew I’d be back the next day.

In the past, I’d eventually get overwhelmed by thinking about the finish line, but that wasn’t the case this time because I was only thinking about the next 30 minutes. Toward the end of the 30 days, I also found that I was getting more done in 30 minutes than I had when I first started. I’d check the clock, certain that I had already hit the 30 minute mark, and being surprised that only 10–15 minutes had passed.

While #30march30 is technically over, I decided to keep its spirit alive by continuing to work for 30 minutes a day. It’s a realistic, attainable, and consistent way of working and I definitely recommend it for anyone who finds themselves wanting to do more personal projects.

Nenad: I personally found it very valuable, although I did have one unplanned missed day. (A combination of me and my daughter getting sick). It really helped me structure my day. I actually got my game into something like a playable state, and am now busy getting it to work properly on mobile. I will let you know once it is released.

NOTE: Since he sent that note, Nenad actually has released his game. You can see it here.

So, yes, #30march30 was a useful challenge for people who wanted to turn their big ideas into manageable, bite-sized daily increments of accomplishment.

And Now, the Ironic Caveat…

Did I get my screenplay written?

No, I did not.

In fact, I actually missed 90 minutes’ worth of work on the #30march30 challenge. (I fell behind by several days and then almost caught back up, but not quite.)

And yet, there’s a silver lining there, even in my case.

That screenplay idea I’ve been wrestling with for 3 years now? I learned a lot about it — and about how I write — during the challenge. Namely:

  • Forcing myself to write for 30 minutes [almost] every day inevitably led me to come up with new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t been “in the zone,” even for just a short time.
  • I started unraveling why the story wasn’t working for me — its structural flaws, its character deficiencies, its theme and purpose — and the answers I started getting took the idea in a new direction that I feel is stronger than the original concept.
  • I realized I need to dedicate a specific time of day, or a specific point in my workflow (like “after I finish X tasks”) to write, or else it becomes too easy to skip a day because “I’d only have to write for an extra 30 minutes to get caught up.” (Do that three days in a row and guess what: I’d need to write for two hours straight to get caught up, which feels like a much larger hurdle to clear.)

So, no, I didn’t reach my own goal. But seeing the challenge work for others felt good anyway — there’s definitely something to be said for communally-shared achievement. Plus, the new ideas I did get as a result of the challenge make me feel like my resulting screenplay will be better than it would have been otherwise.

All I have to do now is write it.

Hmmm…. #30may30, anyone?

Image by Katy Warner.